The Living Sunna: Authority, Trust, and the Contingent Production of Islamic Norms

25 Nov 2021 09.30 AM - 11.00 AM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Justin Clark, Christopher Trigg

Based on my recently published book, What is Religious Authority? (Princeton 2021) this talk explores the role of Muslim scholars in historical and contemporary Yemen and Indonesia in cultivating communities that can serve as sites for the transmission and social realization of Islamic teachings. These actors articulate particular and oftentimes contending visions of the sunna, that is, the normative teachings and practices of the Prophet Muḥammad. Muslims have never agreed on the specific content of the sunna even when they all recognize its authority as one of the religion’s foundational sources. Different scholars claim to speak on behalf of the Prophet in response to distinct social challenges that they confronted in their own localities and historical moments. Some, however, are more authoritative than others. Central to the formation of their authority, is the various labor they perform to gain the trust of their prospective followers. By deploying historical and ethnographic approaches to examine the social roles of Muslim scholars, this talk explores the intersection of authority, trust, and the production of religious norms to reveal how the sunna becomes rooted in and modulated by distinct socio-cultural realities. Articulated in and through inter-personal relationships, the sunna becomes a living, integrated, and socially-embedded norm with a capacity to accommodate and adapt to cultural particularities, individual needs, and the vicissitudes of the everyday.

About the Speaker:

Ismail Fajrie Alatas

Assistant Professor

NYU Arts & Sciences

New York University